The Story of Sir Bertrand
Sir Bertrand turned his steed toward the woods, hoping to cross those dreary moors before the curfew tolled. But ere he had proceeded half his journey, he was bewildered by the different tracts; and not being able, as far as the eye could reach, to espy any object but the brown heath surrounding him, he was at length quite uncertain which way he should direct his course. Night overtook him in this situation.
It was one of those nights when the moon gives a faint glimmering of light through the thick black clouds of a louring sky. Now and then she suddenly emerged in full splendor from her veil; and then instantly retired behind it, having just served to give the forlorn Sir Bertrand a wide-extended prospect over the desolate waste.
Hope and native courage a while urged him to push forward; but at length, the encreasing darkness, and fatigue of body and mind, overcame him: he dreaded moving from the ground he stood on, for fear of unknown pits and bogs; and, alighting from his horse in despair, he threw himself on the ground. He had not long continued in that posture, when the sullen toll of a distant bell struck his ears—he started up; and, turning toward the sound, discerned a dim twinkling light. Instantly he seized his horse’s bridle, and with cautious steps advanced toward it.
After a painful march, he was stopped by a moated ditch surrounding the place from whence the light proceeded; and, by a momentary glimpse of moonlight, he had a full view of a large antique mansion, with turrets at the corners, and an ample porch in the centre. The injuries of time were strongly marked on every thing about it. The roof in various places was fallen in, the battlements were half demolished, and the windows broken and dismantled. A draw-bridge, with a ruinous gateway at each end, led to the court before the building.
He entered; and instantly the light, which proceeded from a window in one of the turrets, glided along, and vanished: at the same moment the moon sunk beneath a black cloud, and the night was darker than ever. All was silent. Sir Bertrand fastened his steed under a shed; and, approaching the house, traversed its whole front with light and flow foot-steps. All was still as death!
He looked in at the lower windows, but could not distinguish a single object through the impenetrable gloom. After a short parley with himself, he entered the porch; and, seizing a massy iron knocker at the gate, lifted it up, and, hesitating, at length struck a loud stroke. The noise resounded through the whole mansion with hollow echoes. All was still again! He repeated the strokes more boldly, and louder. Another interval of silence ensued. A third time he knocked; and a third time all was still. He then fell back to some distance, that he might discern whether any light could be seen in the whole front. It again appeared in the same place, and quickly glided away as before!—at the same instant, a deep, sullen toll sounded from the turret. Sir Bertrand’s heart made a fearful stop.
He was a while motionless; then terror impelled him to make some hasty steps toward his steed but shame stopped his flight; and, urged by honour, and a resistless desire of finishing the adventure, he returned to the porch; and working up his soul to a full steadiness of resolution, he drew forth his sword with one hand, and with the other lifted up the latch of the gate. The heavy door, creaking upon its hinges, reluctantly yielded to his hand:—he applied his shoulder to it, and forced it open. He quitted it, and stept forward—the door instantly shut with a thundering clap. Sir Bertrand’s blood was chilled!
He turned back to find the door, and it was long ere his trembling hands could seize it—but his utmost strength could not open it again. After several ineffectual attempts, he looked behind him, and beheld, across a hall, upon a large stair-case, a pale bluish flame, which cast a dismal gleam of light around.
He again summoned forth his courage, and advanced toward it—it retired. He came to the foot of the stairs; and, after a moment’s deliberation, ascended. He went slowly up, the flame retiring before him, till he came to a wide gallery. The flame proceeded along it, and he followed in silent horror, treading lightly, for the echoes of his footsteps startled him: it led him to the foot of another stair-case, and then vanished! At the same instant another toll sounded from the turret. Sir Bertrand felt it strike upon his heart.
He was now in total darkness; and, with his arms extended, began to ascend the second stair-case. A dead cold hand met his left hand, and firmly grasped it, drawing him forcibly forward—he endeavoured to disengage himself, but could not—he made a furious blow with his sword, and instantly a loud shriek pierced his ears, and the dead hand was left powerless in his—he dropped it, and rushed forward with a desperate valour.
The stairs were narrow and winding, and interrupted by frequent breaches, and loose fragments of stones. The stair-case declined narrower and narrower, and at length terminated in a low iron grate. Sir Bertrand pushed it open—it led to an intricate winding passage, just large enough to admit a person upon his hands and knees. A faint glimmering of light served to show the nature of the place. Sir Bertrand entered—a deep hollow groan resounded from a distance through the vault—he went forward; and, proceeding beyond the first turning, discerned the same blue flame which had before conducted him—he followed it.
The vault, at length, suddenly opened into a lofty gallery, in the midst of which a figure appeared, completely armed, thrusting forward the bloody stump of an arm, with a terrible frown, and menacing gesture, brandishing a sword in his hand.
Sir Bertrand undauntedly sprang forward; and, aiming a fierce blow at the figure, it instantly vanished, letting fall a massy iron key. The flame now rested upon a pair of ample folding doors at the end of the gallery. Sir Bertrand went to it, and applied the key to a brazen lock—with difficulty he turned the bolt—instantly the doors flew open, and discovered a large apartment, at the end of which was a coffin rested upon a bier, with a taper burning on each side of it.
Along the room on both sides were gigantic statues of black marble, attired in the Moorish habit, and holding enormous sabres in their hands. Each of them reared its arm, and advanced one leg forward, as the knight entered; at the same moment the lid of the coffin flew open, and the bell tolled. The flame still glided forward; and Sir Bertrand resolutely followed, till he arrived within six paces of the coffin. Suddenly a lady in a shroud and black veil rose up in it, and stretched out her arms toward him—at the same time the statues clashed their sabres, and advanced.
Sir Bertrand flew to the lady, and clasped her in his arms—she threw up her veil, and kissed his lips; when instantly the whole building shook as with an earthquake, and fell asunder with a horrible crash.
Sir Bertrand was thrown into a sudden trance; and, on recovering, found himself seated on a velvet sofa, in the most magnificent room he had ever seen, lighted with innumerable tapers, in lustres of pure crystal. A sumptuous banquet was set in the middle.
The doors opening to soft music, a lady of incomparable beauty, attired with amazing splendor, entered, surrounded by a troop of gay nymphs more fair than the graces. She advanced to the knight; and, falling on her knees, thanked him as her deliverer. The nymphs put a garland of laurel upon his head; and the lady led him by the hand to the banquet, and sat beside him. The nymphs placed themselves at the table; and a numerous train of servants entering, served up the feast, delicious music playing all the time. Sir Bertrand could not speak for astonishment—he could only return their honours by courteous looks and gestures.
After the banquet was finished, all retired but the lady; who, leading back the knight to the sofa, addressed him in these words:
“Sir Knight, the grateful remembrance of my delivery from the iron hand of the Moorish tyrant, who in dying bequeathed his soul to the prince of the air for the horrid purpose of confining me in this my patrimonial castle, shall never be erased from my memory. And if to you I own his power over me, it was but transient and of short duration. With horror I view the remains of his now extinguished fascination; and though years have rolled after years, and involved in their course the fate of my venerable ancestors, yet I have at last the consolation to find myself by your valor free from the machinations of Almanzor (for that was the name of the Moorish prince, whom our valiant king Edward brought over with him on his return from the crusades).
“My father approved of my union with him, but, alas! I never beheld him without the utmost horror. His dark insidious looks, compared to the open and undisguised mien of him I had lately lost in the troubles of the times, made me shudder. In an unlucky moment I was induced to sign, in obedience to my father’s will, a covenant with Almanzor, which he pretended would place me next heir to the Moorish throne. Each signature was made with our blood, and a requiem was afterward sung for the success of the union. But alas! minds are not easily transferred; my soul owned allegiance to Sir Walter, a generous Knight of this country, and whom this horrid eastern tyrant had destroyed in conflict; and because I peremptorily refused to drink his blood, this mender swore he would invoke every power to confine me until some more valorous Knight should arrive to release me from his hands.
“How long I have been enchanted, I do not know; but this I can declare, that from that time to the present I have not been free from horrid dreams like those which are said to infest the wicked in their graves.”
So saying she rose up, and taking Sir Bertrand by the hand, led him to the couch, where he took his repose for a few hours. Early in the morning he took his departure, promising to return soon. He was as good as his word; and in a few days, the priest united them for ever. The marriage was attended with great pomp, both of ecclesiastic and military men, who all bestowed the most liberal benedictions upon this happy pair.
From Gothic stories. London: S. Fisher, 1800.